After Robin Frijns’ injury in the opening race of the season in Mexico City, Kelvin van der Linde will be his replacement at the ABT CUPRA team. The 26-year-old South African will be a familiar name to GT racing fans, as he has spent his whole career racing that machinery. He’s a two time champion of the ADAC GT Masters and won the 2017 24 Hours of Nurburgring, and races with ABT in the DTM, but never raced on the traditional single-seater ladder on his way to becoming such a rapid driver.
I just went to look for him in the paddock here in Diriyah, but he’s not at the circuit yet so I cant bring you anything from direct from him, I’ve never met him before, but suffice to say he’s talented. During lockdown, he raced for ABT in the Race at Home Challenge, and actually his sim work is something the team are impressed with. Despite never having driven the GEN3 car, he has been relentlessly pounding round Diriyah in the ABT simulator all week, impressing the team with his pace and consistency.
Of course, simulator work is no substitute for the real thing, but Jake Hughes (NEOM McLaren) had a year as a reserve and sim driver for Mercedes-EQ, and put in one of the most impressive rookie displays in history in Mexico City.
It’s unclear how long Frijns will be out for, he naturally wants to be back in the car as quickly as possible but the nature of his hand injury - which required a lengthy operation in Mexico City to rectify - could force him out for a spell. Nevertheless, the team are keen to stress there is no pressure on van der Linde. In some ways, it’s the best time for both Frijns and van der Linde to be in these positions. The ABT CUPRA team are going to be playing catchup this season after their brief hiatus following Audi's exit, and were towards the back of the grid in Mexico City, so Frijns missing races isn’t exactly going to harm his title challenge!
Equally, for van der Linde, there is very little pressure or expectation on him to score big points, so he can try to approach his first ever single seater race as naturally as possible, with an ABT team who he knows well from racing for them in DTM for the last two years. If he’s able to be close to his teammate Nico Mueller, it will be very impressive. If he’s not, it will be understandable.
The final exciting prospect is that of him racing in Cape Town in four week’s time. We all hope Frijns’ recovery goes as quickly as possible, but van der Linde grew up racing in South Africa, and became the country’s youngest ever national racing champion when he won the Volkswagen South Africa Cup in 2012. He will actually become the first Formula E driver from South Africa - and indeed Africa this weekend - the 21st nationality represented in the series over the last nine years.
It’s not the right circumstances, but it’s always nice to see a talented driver get an opportunity in Formula E, and I’m fascinated to see what this weekend’s new boy can do.